History of Olean’s City Buildings

By Maud Brooks, City Historian for the 1960 City Building dedication ceremony.

Although Olean had already been founded, it was not until the State Legislature passed an act empowering any hamlet with a population of at least 300 and having an area of one square mile, that it could be incorporated as a village. It was under this law that Olean was incorporated on January 6, 1855. The boundaries, with some variation and extension, are much the same as now. The population was 954 and the first election was held on May 19, 1855.

Officers and trustees elected were C. H. Thing, president; Ansel Adams, treasurer; and Enos C. Brooks, clerk. The president and the clerk were made a committee to draft the by-laws for the village.

It was not until a meeting on September 20, 1859 that the subject of building a Town Hall was first considered. A committee of two was appointed to secure estimates of cost of such a building, to be 45-feet square, two stories high, with a stone foundation. At the next meeting, a committee was appointed with the power to contract for the building.

The lowest of eight bids received was $970. Additional money was appropriated to pay for a Hook and Ladder house as part of the Town Hall, The Original Town Hall and construction was begun at once. The lumber was purchased from the Weston Brothers Co., and the foundation was laid by Alexander Morton. Soon plans were made for the erection of a tower on the building, and also for a Post Office to be located in the same building.

By 1861 the building was occupied. Records show that a desk, suitable for the trustees room, curtains for the windows, and six spittoons were ordered purchased. Records of the meeting of February 15, 1864, indicated that settees for the Town Hall to replace chairs then in use, should be purchased for $60.

Once a year, usually about the time of the annual meeting, an item appeared in the records allowing for a sum of money ... rarely over $3.50 ... for cleaning the Town Hall. The Post Office, which occupied a room in the building, paid $72 a year rental. Insurance premiums for $2000, were paid on the building. In February, 1866, a resolution was passed permitting J. D. Mandeville & Son to have the use of the trustees room for the term of $50 a year. The agency continued to use the room until 1873.

This old Town Hall was a wooden building, with the entrance on the Southwest corner. The front part on the main floor was used as the Post Office, while the rear of the building was occupied by the Hook and Ladder Company. The second floor was used for town meetings, and often for gatherings of social or civic groups. The Town Hall was destroyed by fire on the night of April 17, 1884.

A temporary building was in use until the decision was made whether to erect a new City Building on the same site or locate it elsewhere. Comments and suggestions appeared in the local newspaper about the need for a structure which would satisfy all civic requirements, and also be an ornament to the city. One item that seemed of great concern, was about a new fire bell. This bell, upon which the names of the city officials of 1884 are molded, has been preserved and can now be seen in Lincoln Park.

Decision to erect the new Town Hall on the same site being made, bids were received, and excavation begun in September, 1884. By January 10, 1885, the brick work was nearly finished to the second story. At a meeting on March 23 of that year, it was voted to install a clock in the tower, which would be convenient, useful and ornamental.

The sum of $20,000 was announced as the cost of this new City Building, which would be raised by general assessment. By July the work of finishing the building was being rushed, and a month later, the Post Office was able to install its equipment in the building. Annual rental paid by the Post Office was $1,000.

The insurance firm of W. M. Ahrams & Son was the first to secure quarters in the building; while Attorney Fred L. Eaton, secured an adjoining room. In the margin of the Record Book of the City Clerk, under the date of September 28, 1885, the notation is made ... "Occupied new City Hall."

This building was in use for many years, undergoing many changes. From April, 1909, to May, 1910, the Olean Public Library occupied several rooms on the second floor while the present library was being built. The Post Office remained in the City Hall until transferred to the present building in 1913.

During World War I the Olean Chapter, American Red Cross, had its headquarters and workrooms in the City Hall. Beside the various departments of the city, a few business offices have located there; the most important for many years being the American Automobile Association.

After many years of consideration, it was decided in 1957 to abandon this City Building and erect a new one on the same site. In February 1958, all offices were moved into temporary quarters in the former School 3 building, and destruction of the old City Building was started on April 22, 1958.

By September 16, plans for the new buiLding were accepted and a month later, contracts arranged and a resolution for a $1,000,000 bond was passed by the Common Council. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place on November 1, and excavation started a few days later.

By September 30, 1959, the cornerstone for the new Municipal Building was laid with appropriate ceremonies, and now this new building has been declared ready for occupancy. Dedication ceremonies are being held June 26, 1960.

Such, in brief, is a history of Olean's city buildings, located on the north side of Lincoln Park, from which our City Fathers will conduct the business of Olean, undoubtedly for many years to come.

Contributed by Jason Wells of Olean